Facing stalemate in ties, Biden and China’s Xi discuss avoiding conflict in call

FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with US Vice President Joe Biden inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with US Vice President Joe Biden (L) inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on December 4, 2013. Reuters/Lintao Zhang/Pool//File photo

September 10, 2021

by Michael Martina, David Brunstrom and Gabriel Crossley

WASHINGTON/BEIJING (Reuters) – US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Thursday spoke for 90 minutes in their first talks in seven months, discussing the need to ensure that the competition between the world’s two largest economies Don’t turn into a struggle.

The US side said “the evidence will be in the pudding” of whether the impasse between the superpowers at its lowest point in decades can be broken.

The White House said in a statement that Biden and Xi had “extensive, strategic discussions” that include areas where interests and values ​​converge and diverge. A senior US official told reporters that the talks focused on economic issues, climate change and COVID-19.

“President Biden underscored the United States’ enduring interest in peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and the world, and the two leaders discussed the responsibility of both countries to ensure competitiveness,” the White House said. he said.

Occasional high-level meetings since Xi and Biden’s first call in February have made little progress on issues ranging from human rights to transparency on the origins of COVID-19.

In the months that followed, the two sides have attacked each other almost constantly, often with public attacks, sanctions on officials and criticism for not meeting international obligations.

Chinese state media said Xi had told Biden that US policy on China imposed “serious difficulties” on the relationship, but added that the two sides should maintain constant contact and ask work-level teams to increase communication. But agreed.

State media, quoting Xi, said, “China and the United States should … show strategic courage and insight, and political courage, and put China-US relations back on the right path of stable development as soon as possible.” “

Asian currencies and stock markets strengthened, as investors speculated that the call could bring about a thaw in relations between the regional economies’ two most important trading partners.

Xi said diplomatic successes in the area of ​​climate change can still be achieved if the “main concerns” of both sides are respected, adding that the issue could add a “positive factor” to the relationship.

During a visit to China by Biden’s top climate envoy John Kerry last week, senior diplomat Wang Yi said climate change was an “oasis” in Sino-US relations, but that it could not be separated from widespread controversy.

‘Proof will be in the pudding’

America’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan has prompted the Biden administration to signal that ending America’s longest war would give American political and military leaders a chance to deal with more pressing threats from China’s rapid rise.

But Beijing has been quick to capture America’s failure in trying to portray the US as a fickle ally in Afghanistan.

Last month, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Washington should not expect China’s cooperation on that or other issues if it is also trying to “stop and suppress” China.

A senior US administration official told reporters before the call that Washington was disappointed that Chinese officials were only willing to read out talks during recent high-level talks.

The official said the US side saw the leaders’ call as a test to see if the direct engagement with Xi could end what had become a stalemate in ties.

After the call the officer said, “It’s about seeing if we have the ability to engage more significantly than what we’ve been able to do… the evidence will be in the pudding,” keeping the tone clear, but respectful.

But the official also acknowledged that the United States’ ability to change China’s behavior may be limited, and Washington must focus largely on competitiveness and rallying partners and allies.

Successive US administrations have complained that Beijing has sought to use endless negotiations as a delayed tactic, with Washington eventually ending an annual US-China dialogue mechanism.

Still, the official said that Biden did not plan to escalate the possibility of US retaliation or “cost” China if China refused to cooperate on a range of issues, including the investigation into the origins of COVID-19.

Beijing denied the US charge that it did not cooperate with the investigation into the epidemic source.

The US official said a “training period” would be needed for the Biden administration to convince Chinese leaders, preparing for a crucial Communist Party Congress next year, that Beijing’s stance would not pay dividends.

“We also think that essentially Beijing’s actions are quieter than their words,” the official said. “His response to our actions has actually been largely symbolic and clearly his harsh rhetoric isn’t really working.”

(Reporting by David Brunstrom, Michael Martina and Eric Beach; Additional reporting by Ryan Wu in Beijing and David Stanway in Shanghai; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Clarence Fernandez)


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